This is the eighteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
Three photos from the Iron Bowl make the Twenty Moments series this year. Three! Aside from BCS Championships, this is probably the biggest game I have ever covered and I have covered some really big games. The thing is, before the game, no one came up and said, “This is going to be the best Iron Bowl game ever and one of the best college football games ever.” Nope. No one does that for you. The talking heads and columnists were building this Iron Bowl up but that is not outside the norm. Everyone expected a big game because it was the first Iron Bowl where both teams were ranked in the top five but no one expected this kind of game.
Honestly, I never expected Auburn to win. I thought it would be a good game for a half, maybe for three quarters then I expected Alabama to pull away and win by a couple of touchdowns. Auburn clearly didn’t know about my expectations! Actually, there was a point in the game where that was about to happen. Alabama went up 21-7 and had the proverbial boot above the neck. Had Alabama stopped Auburn on that possession they would very likely have steamrolled the Tigers. Auburn refused to cooperate and pushed the ball down the field for a touchdown bringing the score back to 21-14.
Much has been said about the coaching, the kicking and the pair of dropped touchdown passes by Alabama receivers. You would think God was on the side of the Auburn Tigers! You would especially think that when you saw the last play of the game which unleashed this flood of Auburn humanity onto the field. Wow, a missed 57 yard field goal returned 109 yards for a touchdown! Who would have predicted that? That has to be the weirdest finish since at least the Cal-Stanford band on the field game and maybe it topped that since so much was at stake in this game.
Literally, the Crimson Tide had been the best team in the nation all year and nothing stood between them and a third BCS Championship game in three years but Auburn and the SEC Championship game. Most people considered the SEC Championship a mere formality as long as Bama didn’t trip in the Iron Bowl. They tripped. Auburn assumed the mantle of the SEC West, the SEC Championship and the trip to the BCS title game. What can you say but Wow!
The game ended and the stands emptied onto the field. All hope of post game photos was lost. The players were lost in a sea of orange and blue. I was lost in a sea of orange and blue. The only hope to get any kind of shot was to get into the now vacant stands. I fought my way toward the Auburn student section like a salmon swimming upstream. Sometimes it literally felt like swimming. My first goal was to get off the field without getting trampled or hurt. Then I would shoot some pictures. I did manage to climb into the student section and the sight of all those fans on the field was like nothing I had ever seen. It was like the stadium had been inverted. What a crazy mob scene.
In the aftermath, fans stripped the hedges in their enthusiasm to take home a memento of the night. Someone left the cremated remains of a loved one on the field. Such is life in the Southeastern Conference’s biggest rivalry game.
This is the seventeenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
July 4th this year will be more famous for the weather than the fireworks. The rain fell so hard for so long it caused severe flooding. I was on vacation at the time and never covered a moment of it. Some roads and bridges were washed out and one of those bridges was located on Danville Road near Danville High School. The road crews were working hard to get the bridge back in service before the start of school. My assignment was a simple construction update on that bridge.
As happens all to often, I showed up at the exact moment the crew was about to begin their lunch break. Danville is too far out from Decatur to go back to town and then come back later so I waited and chatted with the crew as they ate. I noticed one guy had found himself some shade under the big track hoe near the bridge. I didn’t think much of it at the moment and continued to chat with some of the other guys.
Finally, the opportunity for a nice photo finally broke through my thick head so I excused myself from the conversation I was having and tried to get into a position to shoot before the man noticed me and moved or became self conscious or started acting out. I was able to grab a few frames of him unobserved. I then walked up and asked his name. We had a very entertaining conversation while he finished his lunch. He was a very funny guy.
I loved the photo but I also knew it wasn’t the photo I needed to report the story. This image is one of those I am always advocating for here on the blog. It is a photo that is beyond the expectations of the editors. I knew it had nothing to do with the bridge construction so I didn’t turn it in with the regular assignment. I held it for a week and used it in our weekly Behind The Lens photo column. Our editor saw it and asked my photo editor why this wasn’t turned in with the assignment. Sometimes you just can’t win. John explained to him the photo wouldn’t have run because it had nothing to do with the bridge construction and we moved on.
Moments like these make going to work something to look forward to. There is no predicting when or where you will find a moment like this. There is really no predicting if you will find a moment at all. These things happen on good assignments and bad ones. They are available, sometimes, or not. You may go months and not see anything like it and then you may shoot three assignments in a row and have something special from each one.
There is only one secret to finding pictures like this and that is to be looking for pictures like this. Make it a habit. Push beyond the expectations of the assignment and keep your eyes open. I have said it over and over again in the Twenty Moments posts but I will say it one more time; always look to exceed the expectations of the assignment. Don’t shoot for editors. Shoot for you. If you are happy with the work you are producing then it is likely your editors will be too.
This is the seventeenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013
The new joke is, “Hey Nick, got a second?” Auburn already has t-shirts with that printed on the back. As the whole football world knows by now, the game appeared to end when an Alabama ball carrier dashed out of bounds and the clock ticked to zero. Nick Saban asked referees to review the play to see if any time was left on the clock. Indeed, the replay clearly showed the Bama runner stepping out with one second on the clock. Alabama lined up for a 57 yard field goal to win the 28-28 ball game. Then Gus Malzahn called a time out.
This gave me a chance to sprint to the other end of the Alabama bench to get behind the kicker. I knew if he hit the kick he would turn back to the Bama sideline with his arms in the air and maybe teammates would swarm out and lift him on their shoulders. So I was ready. The ball is snapped, placed and kicked. I could tell from the body language he had missed the kick. Game over, right? Then I saw the Alabama players running toward the Auburn end and it took a moment for it to dawn on me what was happening. Malzahn used the timeout to set a return man in the end zone in case the kick was missed short.
The kick was short and Chris Davis caught the ball nine yards deep in the end zone and returned it. He had nothing to lose. The Crimson Tide parted and Davis outran the big, heavy linemen to the end zone to win the game with the most unlikely play I have ever seen. As soon as Davis cleared about the Auburn 40 yard line I could see him. There were no Alabama players in my frame and I thought he might score. He kept running and I knew he was going to score. And score he did.
I had a good, clean look at the run back with people on the sideline with hands raised. I sprinted toward the end zone where he was being dog piled by his teammates then I remembered, my job was to cover Alabama. I knew from experience there would be almost no reaction from the Alabama players and I started to run on over to the pile. I managed to reign myself in and get to the Alabama sideline in time to get one nice dejection photo before the players were gone or lost in the swarm of fans stampeding the field.
My colleague, Jeronimo Nisa, was covering the Auburn side and I had to stick to my assignment. The play actually came directly toward him and he had the player scoring literally right in front of him. My next mission was to get off the field before I was run down by the stampeding Auburn fans, but that is a post for another day. Now, as a peak action photo, this shot isn’t much. The player is all alone and the angle is not optimal; however, it is a historic moment in this rivalry and having any kind of frame of the biggest moments in the Iron Bowl rivalry automatically elevates this picture to an above average place and gives it a spot in this year’s Twenty Moments.
This is the sixteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
I literally hate shopping assignments. Nothing, including ribbon cuttings, makes me grumble like getting a shopping assignment and we have a lot of shopping assignments. Okay, maybe gas price assignments make me more grumpy but it is a toss up! Arrrggghhh! I feel a pirate moment coming on! Avast ye shoppers, I will hang ye from the yard-arm…. ye will walk the…. Okay, I controlled myself but dang it, I hate shopping photos. I guess it is entirely superfluous to tell you I don’t like to go shopping myself.
Here is the run down. We do shopping photos about four major times per year, Thanksgiving/Black Friday, Back To School, Day after Christmas and I forget the other one. Brain lock for sure! I will do nearly anything to avoid shopping photos. Why, you ask, do I so hate shopping photos? Thank you for asking.
Aside from not enjoying shopping myself, photographing in retail stores has become increasingly difficult. Many of the chain stores don’t want you anywhere near their places of business and if you are there they want to send an escort around with you to make sure you behave yourself. That is a big one. Shopping photos tend to be highly repetitive images of people looking at stuff which is why I don’t like shooting some festivals either. There are only so many ways to get shots of people looking at stuff! During the Christmas season, no one really wants you to photograph them buying gifts because the people they are buying for may see the pictures. This year I was turned down by five or six out of eight people I approached in Kmart. I mean, really, how aggravating can this get?
So there is a nutshell of my dislike for shopping photos. But, once in a while, I do find a gem, a diamond amid the lumps of coal. This photo is a diamond. I was in the Target in Decatur photographing for the annual tax free shopping weekend that is designed to help people buy their back to school supplies and clothing. It is a very popular shopping holiday. Target is one of the stores I actually like to work with. They have been accommodating every time I have asked. Thank you Target.
I came across these moms with their kids shopping for new shoes. The little girl was quite the little fire ball so I thought I would hang around and see what happened. Sure enough, a little patience paid off. Her mom laced on the shoes and she did this little leap and acted like a lioness! Nice! Nailed it!!! All through this series, by the way, that nailed it thing is a little humor not abject arrogance!, I have preached the value of pushing beyond expectations. You know the expected photo from this assignment. I have about a dozen of those images. Hanging out a few extra moments with these two ladies and their kids paid off with a wonderful photo that ran big on page 1 the next day. Gotta love it even when it is a shopping photo.
This is the sixteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports series for 2013.
No one tells you before a game that you are about to photograph that it will go down as one of the all-time greats in college football history. You feel it coming as the game builds to its climax but even after it is over you are working too hard to take much notice. Only after you transmit that last image does it sink in and you think what a privilege it is to have the job you have. This game may also be the game with the most unlikely ending since the game between the Amorites and the Philistines was ended prematurely by a rain storm back in Noah’s day. (To be honest, I made that part up. I am not sure those two teams existed until after Noah!) My job in this Iron Bowl was to cover Alabama. I told people before the game Alabama should beat Auburn by two touchdowns. In all actuality, they probably should have and probably would have nine times out of ten. But not on this night.
The negative side of the game for Alabama was the kicking. Poor Cade Foster had an awful night. He missed three times. After the third miss, AJ McCarron who was holding for him, walked past him and patted him on the head. Cade, as you can see, has his head down in a classic pose of dejection. I am pretty sure Coach Saban saw that body language and, in a critical situation later in the fourth quarter, opted to go for it on fourth down, a decision that surely cost Alabama the game. A field goal in that situation would have iced the game for Bama but Coach Saban had this image in his mind. Auburn held on fourth down and managed a game tying touchdown leaving less than one minute on the clock.
You all know what happened after that. Yet another malfunction in the kicking game cost Alabama a near certain shot at another National Championship. This photo, from the Alabama perspective, becomes the photo of the game. Will this enter my a portfolio? Nope. But it has the storytelling quality you want in your sports images. When you get that frame that tells the story you know you have done your job.
Now, the story doesn’t stop here. Some Alabama fans actually texted death threats to Cade Foster after the game. Insanity! The young man missed some kicks. It is a game. People, grow up! And how in the world can anyone heap this on Cade’s shoulders. People don’t remember that Alabama receivers dropped two passes in the end zone that would have been touchdowns. Had either ball been caught the game never comes down to a field goal and, honestly, would not have even been a close game. I also have a nice frame of one of those would be touchdowns being dropped. For all of that, Auburn won the game on the most unlikely play ever to end a game.
Alabama attempted another field goal with one second on the clock. It was a very long attempt and the kick fell one yard short. Chris Davis returned said kick 109 yards for the game winning touchdown with no time left. Want to guess what tomorrow’s post will show?
This is the fifteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
My normal work shift is a businesslike 9-5. In the world of photojournalism the word “normal” should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Normal means when all of us are working and all of us are seldom working at the same time. The result of our wacky schedule is I work the later shifts from time to time in an unpredictable kind of normal way. Drives my wife crazy! I don’t mind too much because it provides some diversity to my work days.
This photo is the result of one of those abnormal-normalities. A new steel factory is going up in Limestone County on the north side of the Tennessee River. The company was moving a very large press component to the factory via the Tennessee River then by special transport to their new factory. The special transport is an 18 axle trailer that is driven remotely by a man walking beside it with a control unit. The entire operation is quite impressive. The move was made at night to avoid as much of the workday traffic as possible.
Night photography can be fun and challenging and infuriating all at the same time. On this night, the weather decided to spice up the night with rain. In fact, a light rain began falling right about the time the company began the move. There was no light to speak of beyond the sodium vapor street lights so this was going to be a challenge. The moving company had a very large, very intense spotlight on top of the hauler. This complicated things because now the fall off from the hot light to the complete darkness was going to be extraordinary.
If you work for a newspaper you already know the photo I am showing you is not the photo we ran in our lead page position. This is far and away my best photo but you can’t see the big hauler with the press piece on it. Sometimes you have to cave to the obvious and I certainly provided a number of nice images of the hauler, the traffic and the people. Still, I worked very hard to get this shot. I had to feel around and see how close the moving company was going to let me get. When it was apparent they didn’t care as long as I didn’t get run over I began working this shot. The man in the photo was the eyes for the front end of the hauler. He was radioing directions for turns back to the driver.
I shot for about five minutes on this one image. I am sure the guy must have thought I was nuts. To make the shot work, his body had to obscure the entire light source and my exposure has to be spot on so there is some wrap around light on the man to make sure he is not a silhouette. A night time silhouette is, shall we say, dark. The back lit rain drops add a nice touch to the image.
This is an example of what I spoke of in an earlier post about shooting to meet my own expectations. I mean, how easy would it have been for me to shoot that overall shot of the hauler, the traffic and the guys and walk away, photo in the bag? I have been doing this long enough I seldom even think about it. I always push beyond the expectations of the assignment unless I am sick or something like that. Pushing keeps me interested and pushing helps me make pictures, unexpected pictures, from everyday assignments. This isn’t going to win any prizes for me but it hangs in that pushing the envelope hall of photographs I have in my mind!
This is the fifteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports edition for 2013.
That scream you hear off in the distance is not Wesley in the Pit of Despair! It is my soul crying out in agony as I miss the shot of year! For those of you who don’t understand my movie reference, go immediately and rent The Princess Bride. You will thank me for the rest of your life. For those cultured among you, no further explanation is necessary.
Obviously this Twenty Moments moment is not a highlight of my year; rather, it is an object lesson. You can see this is one of the key moments of Auburn’s season. This is the Miraculous Deflection turned Miraculous Reception turned saving moment of the season. Of course, there was another play, even more unlikely that lifted Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Like I said yesterday, I wouldn’t bet a single penny on Florida State in the BCS Championship. Wow!
Here is what happened. Like everyone else in the stadium, I expected the last play to be a failed pass attempt that would seal the victory for Georgia. I was actually focused on the Auburn fans in the student section. I turned around just before the play to shoot, you know, just in case. When the Georgia players leaped into the air, I have them tack sharp, perfectly focused. I could see Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis lift his eyes and I knew the ball had been tipped up. I also knew my camera was refusing to focus on Louis. I banged on the AF button with my thumb, begging with my mind for the camera to focus. It refused. The ball floated into his hands with him coming right at me. I nailed the shot, only I didn’t.
I didn’t even bother to review the image. I knew it was out of focus. My only alternative was to turn back to the fans with my second body and a wide lens and shoot their reaction. They were, of course, going ape. It is a nice series of frames but it is not the catch, the defining moment. I missed it. I am still chagrined. Of all the shots to miss and I miss this one. There are no adjectives that my mom and dad can read without washing my mouth out with soap that would accurately express me feelings right now so use your imagination.
Here is the object lesson. I got greedy. Three games earlier, I think it was during the Alabama vs Tennessee game, I decided I wanted full speed on my motor drive. I moved the selector from ten frames per second to eleven frames per second. It seemed to work ok so I left it there and forgot about it. Then the problems started. I began noticing the camera was not following focus well, not even when the subject movement was minimal. It took me three weeks to figure it out which was about a week too long. I had changed every AF setting I could to eliminate the focus lock and focus tracking. I had the camera doing nothing but continuous autofocus. Still, it wasn’t working right. I finally remembered changing the motor selector. I switched it back and tried a high school basketball game. Nailed every shot.
I happened to speak with Bob Rosato about the problem and he told me the D4 does not play well at 11 fps. That was the tipping point for sure. Bob is the head of USA Today Sports and a former Sports Illustrated photographer. I spoke to him about it just before the Iron Bowl game and it confirmed my diagnosis. That is one of the really wonderful things about shooting with the big dogs. The big dogs turn out, as often as not, to be really nice people who are willing to share knowledge with you. That alone is worth showing up to shoot college football.
This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson is from Kansas and he has done much work in his native state. Granted, he has traveled the world on assignment for Geographic but I think his most heart felt photographs have been produced in his home state. There is this photo that remains one of my favorites of his showing a couple of farmers harvesting wheat with a gigantic summer thunderstorm approaching.
This year was a big wheat year across the part of north Alabama I cover. Farmers use a rotation system with cotton, soybeans, corn and wheat. The wheat is a winter crop that is harvested in early summer giving the farmers time to plant soybeans behind it. This wheat field is one of my favorite spots in Limestone County. It is in a place called Peets Corner at the intersection of Mooresville Road and Huntsville-Browns Ferry Rd. I have been in a few real messes in that spot and I guess that accounts for my affection. Honestly, I don’t know for sure I am spelling it right so pardon to my Limestone County friends if I have it wrong.
I was in that field back in the D1 days when a small funnel cloud came twisting out of the sky right on top of me. By right on top of me I mean literally, right on top of me. It didn’t touch down and it was small so I would probably have survived even if it did. Then, on April 27, 2011, I got caught beside this same field on the open road as an airborne tornado passed almost directly over my head. This one was no joke. I was terrified, couldn’t see a thing and the hail was falling like rain, car rocking back and forth in the wind. Anyway, that is why I go there when it is stormy.
This day was not going to be a horrible day but a storm was coming and I passed Peets Corner and saw the harvesters coming in from the fields trying to beat the weather. I parked beside the big old oak tree and grabbed my gear. As I headed into the field, the drivers parked the harvesters. Don’t think I wasn’t thinking about Jim Richardson’s amazing photo. Then, out of the harvester, hops this little boy in the red shorts. Sometimes you see something and your heart skips a beat in a good way.
The approaching storm was not going to give me a Jim Richardson moment but the little boy in the red shorts gave me a beautiful moment. I guess he had been riding with his dad who got out behind him. This is another of those images that I would never claim is great. It won’t be in my portfolio but it strikes one of those rich memory chords for me attaching itself in some small way to that photo by Richardson. I will keep on passing by Peets Corner and I will keep my eyes on the sky. I also have scoped out a spot where I can take cover should another big tornado come crashing through there!
This is the fourteenth post in the Twenty Moments Sports editon for 2013.
When you are having a “miraculous” season, walking on air can’t be that big of a deal. I don’t know about miracles but Auburn surely has been on someone’s good side this year. They had no conference wins last year which cost the coach his job. Auburn hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and suddenly the team exploded. Add new quarterback Nick Marshall to the mix and there was definitely something magical, if not miraculous, about the 2013 season. I mostly covered the University of Alabama this year but I arrived just in time to photograph Auburn’s two most unlikely wins.
Auburn led Georgia comfortably going into the fourth quarter before blowing the lead and needing a miracle. On the last play, on a fourth down and long, quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back and threw a Hail Mary pass. Two Georgia defenders were waiting in perfect position. They jumped into the air and somehow, instead of simply batting it down and winning the game, they tipped the ball into the air and into the hands of Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis who waltzed into the end zone.
In the Iron Bowl game for the ages, Auburn trailed Alabama late and somehow the Alabama defense, one of the best in the nation all season, couldn’t put the brakes on Auburn. Nick Marshall rolled left and threw the single ugliest pass I have ever seen. Somehow that lame duck, and that is being too polite, fell into the arms of a wide receiver and there was not a single Alabama defender anywhere near him. He scored to tie the game. Then, as everyone knows, Alabama tried a field goal with one second left after a review of what appeared to be the final play put one second back on the clock. (Got a second Nick?) Chris Davis caught the errant field goal and somehow returned it 109 yards for a touchdown to win the game in what is the most unlikely ending to a football game I have ever seen.
You now know enough to know not to be against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game! The photo of Nick Marshall floating over a quartet of fallen Gerogia players seems to me to sum up the feel of the season pretty well. I won’t claim this is a great sports action photo; however, it is one of those photos that has an “it” quality. I can’t put my finger on it but there is some kind of metaphor for Auburn’s season in this image.
In the great scheme of sports photography I would always lean more towards the best metaphorical moment over the best peak action moment. Yes, action photos fill the photo galleries and lead sports pages but when you are telling the story of a game or a season, images like this one will live on while those standard action images will be forgotten.
This is the thirteenth post in the Twenty Moments News series for 2013.
I like babies. I have a bunch of them myself. Of course, mine are not babies now. Some have grown up and moved away and the others are in the process of growing up. When my friend David Higginbotham called me early in the year he asked would I be interested in photographing the birth of he and Anna’s first child. I was delighted to say yes!
David used to work at The Decatur Daily. He left us about ten years ago. In fact, he and Anna met on a photo assignment. (He was extremely young when we hired him!) Anna was a Jr. Miss contestant and David had the assignment to photograph her for the paper. I guess he made more than a picture that day. They dated all through her college years and finally, after a couple of hiccups, made it to the altar. You know, until now, I had forgotten this, but I actually helped David set up their engagement and then shot the photos of him popping the question. I think we conned Anna into coming to the newspaper warehouse to help us set up and test a photo shoot. You will want to remember that for later in the post.
Continuing the saga, I shot David’s wedding along with another colleague, Emily Furtch. I guess you could say we have shared a bunch of important moments before this which explains, at least in part, why they would invite me to photograph the birth of their child. Now, back to this photo. The very surprised lady you see is Anna’s mother, Vicki Linley. She had no idea Anna was pregnant. David wanted to surprise her with the news so he printed and framed a photo of the ultrasound and stuck it in a plain, brown box. As we arrived at her house, we put the box on the step and knocked on the door.
Remember how I told you he conned Anna into coming to the warehouse by saying we were setting up a photo and needed a model? Yeah, well, it worked once, why not see if it would work again. They told Vicki that I would be coming by to test a camera. She knows me too and didn’t think anything about it because she knows I am a photographer and, of course, David still shoots as well. The only problem was getting her outside on a cold day. We made up some reason to get her out so she would find the box.
At first she was confused why anyone would leave a box on her step. She opened it to see what was going on. There was a moment of total confusion on her face then the revelation dawned. It was such a fun moment and one of the best early moments in this story. The story published today at decaturdaily.com. You can go there and see the entire piece complete with stories, photo galleries and videos. This is the very first story in a series I am doing called The Seasons of Life, something you will see more about over the months, and probably years, to come. Go check it out and enjoy a birth story at Christmas. Hey, that is a nice tie in, don’t you think.